November 10 was the 232nd birthday of the United States Marine Corps. Every November 10, Marines around the world gather to celebrate. In American embassies, the Marine Security Guard detachment customarily observes the event by hosting a ball for the Embassy staff. These are often elaborate black-tie affairs; ours was simpler but no less moving. I’m very sorry to say, I did not bring a camera.
The ceremony was in one of the ballrooms of the Palace. Standing room only. After a video address by Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. James T. Conway, which reviewed the Corps’ establishment in 1775 by the Continental Congress and its formative battles, Amb. Ryan C. Crocker spoke, then Gen. Mastin M. Robeson.
Gen. Robeson called for a show of hands: how many present bear the title of Marine? Almost half. The oldest and youngest Marines present, Chief Warrant Officer-4 Welles D. Bacon (70) and Private First Class Richard L. Freeman III (20), cut the cake with a ceremonial sword. It was a huge sheet cake with bright red frosting and yellow trim. Four young Marines wheeled it to the front of the room as the Marines’ Hymn played. Retired Marines could be observed at attention, knuckles to their trouser seams, eyes front.
Amb. Crocker remarked on the long relationship between the U.S. Foreign Service and Marine Corps – not just the present arrangement of Marine Security Guards but the first U.S. land engagement on foreign soil: the assault on Derna in 1805, led by William Eaton, consul to the Barbary states. A detachment of seven Marines under the command of Lt. Presley O’Bannon formed the core of Eaton’s irregular forces. The battle helped end the First Barbary War, though Eaton was disappointed with the negotiated peace. It has a line in the Marines’ Hymn.
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The Battle of Derna is the subject of the recent book The Pirate Coast. It also figures in a novel, Lydia Bailey, by Kenneth Roberts (a partisan of Eaton). Like Amb. Crocker, who noted how Eaton bombarded Washington with letters, I think we can learn from the First Barbary War today. About a year ago, I quoted Roberts on the subject, in part:
…Hamet [Karamanli] wasn’t an American: he was a friend in a far land who trusted America, believed in America, was promised help by America; and any failure to provide that help should have been rightly resented as a stain upon America’s honor.
[Published Dec. 10]